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Asylum Seekers: Channel Crossings

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

3. Whether she has had discussions with the Home Secretary on proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill to intercept small boats and return asylum seekers to France. (904189)

11. What recent discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the Nationality and Borders Bill proposals to intercept small boats and return asylum seekers to France. (904198)

The traffickers organising these dangerous crossings are putting lives at risk, and it is vital that we do everything we can to protect them and prevent them from operating from France. We must break the business model of criminal gangs exploiting vulnerable people. Our position is clear: people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and they should not risk their lives by making these dangerous journeys across the channel.

There is a duty on ships to rescue persons who are in danger at sea, in both customary international law and in binding international conventions such as the 1974 international convention for the safety of life at sea and the 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea. Given the UK Government’s supposed commitment to an international rules-based system, how does the Minister square that with clearly flouting those rules?

The Home Office is taking lawful action in the channel to disrupt the traffickers’ life-threatening and criminal business model, and that really should not be in question. This Government are taking urgent and necessary measures to fix our broken asylum system, stop people traffickers, and deter illegal entry, and I am most disappointed that the hon. Gentleman and his party did not see fit to support that.

The Home Office proposals are immoral, dangerous and, as we have just heard, illegal, because they break international law. This Government want to force others to do their bidding by breaking international law on their behalf. Any QC and Attorney General worth their salt would be telling the Home Secretary to forget her plans and not to break international law. Why will the Attorney General not step up to the plate?

The UK prides itself on its leadership within the international system and it discharges its international obligations in good faith. We have a proud history of providing protection to those who need it and to migrants who have a lawful basis to be here. My personal background is one such case of reference. Let me just say this. I have acted for the Government in court on several immigration and asylum cases—many, many of them—and I can tell the House that our asylum system is broken. Our Bill fixes it and it is a shame that the hon. Gentleman voted against it.

Does the Attorney General agree that it would not be practical or possible in law for international law to condone illegal immigration?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are international rules and conventions, which bind state parties, on our duties when it comes to maritime law and our obligations. We honour those duties and take them very seriously. We also have a domestic regime of immigration and asylum, which we are able to modify and change now that we have left the European Union.